Thursday, April 29, 2010

LGBT Provision Amended to Senate Foreign Relations Bill

I found this piece posted by HRC Backstory.

LGBT Provision Amended to Senate Foreign Relations Bill

Yesterday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee accepted an amendment to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act (S. 2971) [PDF] that will help the State Department address LGBT human rights concerns abroad. The amendment, offered by Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), for himself and for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), passed on a 12-7 roll call vote, with all Democrats and Republican Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) voting in its favor. HRC supported this amendment and urged Committee members to vote in its favor.

Senator Feingold remarked:
"Passage of this amendment will help counter efforts around the world to restrict the rights of people just because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda is just the latest example of why we need to strengthen the State Department’s ability to monitor and address these serious human rights abuses around the world."

The amendment instructs the State Department to create one or more positions within the Human Rights Bureau to specifically monitor international LGBT concerns, including tracking of LGBT violence and criminalization of homosexuality. In addition, it requires the State Department to work through United States diplomatic and consular missions to encourage countries to reform or repeal laws that criminalize homosexuality or consensual homosexual conduct or that otherwise restrict fundamental freedoms for LGBT individuals. Furthermore, it mandates that LGBT issues be included in the Secretary of State’s annual report on human rights practices and that LGBT issues be included in the human rights training courses provided to Foreign Service Officers.

The amendment is virtually identical to language included in the Foreign Relations Authorization Act approved by the House last year (H.R. 2410, Section 333).

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Going Public

Hannah over at the slow move east has been blogging for a while, and has recently made the decision to make her blog public. This is the reverse of what many blogs have done in the past. A lot of folks blog when they first join the Department because they are eager to share their experiences, but too often they are quickly scared into going private, or worse, deleting their blogs all together.

I hope Hannah is the start of a new trend. As I mentioned earlier this month, it seems to me that the Department is moving towards a more open and reasonable policy towards blogs. As one DS agent said in a video we watched during my training, "I love bloggers. I blog. I just hate stupid bloggers." We all serve because we love our country, and we blog because we want to share our experiences (and at least some of us hope to use the blogs to recruit other good people). I don't think any of us wants to do anything to hurt our country, particularly as a "stupid blogger."

Below is some of what Hannah said going public means to her. You should read her entire post on Going Public, or How I Learned to Manage My Healthy Awareness of Diplomatic Security.

[...]After seeing the shaming of a new FSO last January over her public blog, I've been thinking a lot about going public with this site, and what that might mean for me.


The shakedown of FSO Rookie really struck me as emblematic of the battle between the Old School State people and the newbies in the Department. I certainly don't want to disparage the old hands, who have knowledge and experience that will take me years to accumulate. However, I think that things have changed in the Department, and those of us in the new generation don't have quite the same point of view that our superiors have on a number of FS traditions. This job is wonderful, but it's not the only thing in my life - I'm not sacrificing my sanity and my personal life to uphold the self-imposed ideal of a US diplomat. As programs like Pickering, PMF, and Rangel bring in a younger, more technologically connected, and more diverse set of FSOs, the face of our diplomatic corps is changing, as is our attitude towards the work-life balance, the way that we interact with and engage the world, and the values we hold dear.

This is a long way of saying that I'm opening up this blog as a way to stake out my position on free speech for federal employees and our right to talk about our lives in a mature, logical way online. I understand the need to stay on message and the need to be secure. Neither of those concerns should preclude me from writing generally about my job, its benefits and difficulties, and the joys and struggles of living overseas as an American with an unusual position in my host country's society. Additionally, I've become a lot more connected to the FS blog community in the past few months, and I want to be able to take part more fully in conversations on comment boards. [...]

Here's to the future, folks.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

EERing and moving on

I am convinced that Catholics have a guilt sponge surgically implaced at baptism and for the rest of our lives, whether we are practicing Catholics or not, we absorb any free-floating guilt in the room and make it our own.

I have been feeling guilty about procrastinating about writing my EER. It has made it so that I couldn't do anything else (well...except run - did I mention I am starting Week 5 of Couch to 5K today? - and blog, because guilt shared is guilt enhanced). So I haven't really given myself over to thinking about my onward. I have also gotten very little done on my dissertation.

But now that my EER is moving towards being complete (I still need to write my response to his part, but that is much easier), I can move on to fantasizing about my next assignment.

So in just a mere 7 weeks, or 34 more working days (since I am taking a long weekend in May to go to the beach), I will be done with these 12-14 hour days. I will move on the the bliss of sleeping a little later, biking to work, wearing blue jeans for work attire, and studying like a college student. Okay, probably better than a college student, or at least better than *I* was as a college student!

And I can start thinking about my next post.

Baltic Reports on Facebook helped me out with that a bit today by posting some pictures of Tallinn. I'll leave you with this non-copyrighted one. This link will take you to where you can see the rest.

I am also going to start working more on my dissertation. Tomorrow.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Nobody in the Foreign Service likes writing EERs. If you don't believe me, check here, here, here, and here.

Show me a Foreign Service Officer who likes writing their EER and I will show you one of the most arrogant people on the planet.

I hate it. HATE. IT.

So I have been procrastinating.

Our EERs go through April 15. You should have bullet points to your boss by then or shortly thereafter. They have to be all signed, sealed and delivered by May 15 (this year, they have extended the deadline until May 21 because of some problems with the form, which only makes me want to procrastinate more).

The trouble with writing EERs is that everyone walks on water. In order to get promoted, you have to demonstrate that not only do you walk on water, but you can change that water into wine while doing it.

I have reasonably strong self esteem, but arrogant is something I am decidedly not.

My trouble this year is that I am getting a taste of what the FS-02s are having to do, which is basically having to write the whole thing. So they have to describe how they walk on water rather than having their bosses do it based on bullets they have provided.

Like many people, my boss is really really busy, so I am writing a draft of his part for him.

I just finished my draft of his part.

And I feel dirty.

And my fear is he will either leave it as it, and think I am arrogant, or change it, and ruin my chances at getting promoted.

Hate it.


Hong Kong bloggers?

I got an email today from someone wanting to know if any of you are in or have served in Hong Kong.

I haven't even served anywhere described as "the Hong Kong" of the place I was in. So I thought I'd ask you guys.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Eight Weeks

At a meeting with the Secretary I attended right after she took office, the Director of the Office of Civil Rights suggested that if she or her staff got lost in "The Building," to find a sixth floor staffer. They could get you anywhere.

I am one of those sixth floor staffers, or at least for eight more weeks, and I have been for nearly two years. So I can find most anything in The Building.

I mention that only because this morning, on the way to my office from Russian class, I decided to take a different route, one that took me right through the main area of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, my old stomping grounds. I chatted with several people I ran into, because I was in INR for two years and I know LOTS of folks there, and I was thinking how much I miss working in INR (side note: INR is a GREAT place to serve. I LOVED it and will probably make it my minor bureau). But then I remembered that towards the end of my tour there, I was ready to leave. Eager in fact.

Much like I am eager now.

Not because this job, or that one, are bad. As my wife said, in these jobs, I have not had to give my bosses nicknames.

But the Foreign Service attracts people who are smart and easily bored, or more precisely, with career ADHD. We know we will seldom be in one place, or one job, or with a certain boss, for more than a couple years. It is a burden and a luxury. No matter how bad (or, unfortunately, good) your boss is, you will only be with that person for a limited time. And then you will move on.

It is hard not to check out once you get your next assignment. But because I am on my third one-year tour (I had to bid four years in a row, and in case you are new here, I HATE bidding. How dumb was THAT career plan?), I couldn't really check out each time I got my new assignment because I had only just gotten to my current one.

But now I have eight weeks left. And I am giving myself over to checking out with abandon (though if I were smarter, I would wait until I finished my EER, but I never claimed to be smart!). I am fantasizing (and boring anyone who will listen) with the joy of thoughts of biking to FSI, of days that are not 14 hours long, and of retiring my suits in exchange for jeans as usual work attire. For 13 whole months.

Of course, I am certain I will be bored with it long before I get to post, but for now, it looks like heaven. And knowing that by the time I am bored with it, I will still be YEARS away from having to bid again makes it all the better!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Uptick in Snark?

I noticed, right after I labeled the blogroll, that several folks got snarky comments on their blogs.

I am wondering if there is a connection, or if this is just coincidence.

Are you noticing more snarky comments on your blog? Are jerks using the labels on my blogroll to target the kind of folks they want to bully? I sincerely hope not (because I really really don't want to un-label them!)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Foreign Service 15

DiploLife has an interesting post about the Foreign Service 15. It is, according to DiploLife, "the typical pounds gained when leaving D.C., on R&R in the U.S., and now I have discovered it can also occur when leaving an overseas post."

I have never heard it called that, but I have certainly experienced it. I would add to his list of times you gain them any time you work on one of the Watches here at Main State. It is not a case of "this may be the last time I get to eat this," but it certainly is a need for extra energy. And in the Operations Center, you can find all the junk food your heart desires on the food trough.

Do you have the foods you have to eat? I know I do! I think I have gained weight every time I came back to the states from overseas or when I was about to leave. When I was in Jerusalem, I made a two-week trip home for some training about a year into my tour. I found my first Starbucks on the way to the baggage claim in New Jersey and got a ginourmous strawberries and creme frappachino. And I ate bagels every day and nearly cried because you can't get good bagels in Jerusalem (yeah, I know, I didn't think that made sense either). And BACON. Any time I got out of Jerusalem, I wanted bacon on EVERYTHING. Turns out, it is not so good on ice cream.

I also eat Arby's roast beefs and of course you have to have a jamocca shake with it. And good mexican. And Outback at least once.

And sushi...though really, I eat sushi at least once a week, not counting the cafeteria sushi, because you just never know if this is the last time you will get to eat it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Diplomacy Lite, Military Heavy

Now back to something a little (a lot) more serious. Pat Kushlis had a great piece yesterday over at Whirled View that I think you ought to read.

Diplomacy Lite, Military Heavy
By Patricia H. Kushlis

Why is American foreign policy so diplomatically light but so militarily heavy? No, I’m not imagining things. And it’s been that way for decades – George W. Bush and Dick Cheney just pushed the envelope further in that direction after 9/11.

Yet this is a fundamental question that Americans should not only be asking, but also attempting to resolve because diplomatic solutions, negotiations and conflict management are far less expensive (listen up Teapotter conservatives who long for small government and a miniscule federal budget – except, of course, for the military, roads and their Medicare and VA benefits), certainly less lethal, normally more effective with the neighbors and often just plain good foreign relations common sense.


The way the Cold War was conceptualized in the US, America tilted heavily towards reliance on preponderant military strength. This was also used as a way to persuade the American public to and sell the US Congress on support for a policy weighted towards consequent military growth.

One also has to wonder, however, whether at the time the alternative would have been a retreat into the equally misguided isolationism of Jesse Helms and if the Containment policy wasn't partially, at least, designed as a counter-balance. Then, of course, Joe McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch hunt came along which damaged not only American universities, intellectuals, and the entertainment industry but also the State Department decimating the ranks of the China hands who, because they predicted Mao's victory, were somehow blamed for it.


Today the problem is - because of continued over-reliance on the military to solve all foreign policy problems - the US Armed Forces have been ordered to assume roles and engage in tasks for which they are eminently unsuited, unskilled and ill-prepared. Unfortunately, the State Department and what’s left of USAID have been so weakened over the years to be unable to take them on successfully either.

How to make fundamental changes?

The question in my mind, then, is how to effect the systemic seismic changes required. I agree with Suri who argues that the US should eliminate the concept of containment from its foreign policy lexicon and emphasize that of engagement (which I think Obama has largely done), that alliances should be seen as ongoing processes and relationships and that there needs to be a Constitutional revision of the National Security Act. Suri also suggests the establishment of a ROTC for the State Department as a way of training future diplomats.


Increases fine - but it will take far more to correct the Herculean problems

Congress has just agreed to increase the number of Foreign Service Officers by 1,000 (700 at State and 300 at USAID) next year. That’s all to the good. But what about the Peace Corps and where will those 700 newbies at State be assigned? Stamping visas every one?

In reality, these projected increases are 1) a drop in the bucket (the good news is that the phrase that there are more members of military bands than US Foreign Service Officers has finally become part of the vernacular) when the State Department still can’t manage its personnel well; 2) the Foreign Service Act of 1980 continues to force out too many competent officers at the peak of their careers for no good reason; and 3) it takes years (like about 20) to develop a seasoned officer with the requisite skills and foreign language ability to function well overseas. Just in time, as it turns out, for many to be retired prematurely.


You can read the entire piece here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Seen in The Building

There is a joke in the Intel Community (and probably elsewhere) that you can tell an extrovert at NSA because they stare at someone else's shoes.

That is sort of true here at the State Department, with the vast majority of Foreign Service Officers being introverts (you wouldn't think so, right? I thought diplomats would all be people people. Turns out, not so much. Except in Public Diplomacy. Shocking I know).

So since there are so many introverts here, I wasn't surprised when I got on the elevator with my cafeteria sushi to head back to my office to see a woman staring at her shoes.

What suprised me was how she started singing unintelligibly right before her floor.

Of course, that is not my weirdest elevator experience today (what is it with elevators anyway?). This morning, I got on the elevator after my Russian class and there was a normal looking gentleman already on the elevator. As we came to his floor, I started to say have a nice day. But before I could, he stepped to the still-closed door, his nose almost touching it, bared his teeth like and angry dog, and growled at it.

So I just stared at my shoes.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A better label

Ryan over at Ryan and Lori's Exciting Adventures apparently likes my new blogroll labeling, especially in labeling the blogs done by male EFMs like Ryan. I have to say, I like his new acronym for male EFMs.


Or Beside Real Officer, Sighing.

I think his point about having to defend his maniless when people discover he is going to follow Lori illustrates just how deeply ingrained our stereotypes really are. And it is amazingly unjust, considering that just like in the military, Foreign Service spouses are serving our country.

So instead of pissing myself off, I am going to think of my labels as a useful way of proving that we don't need no stinkin' stereotypes!

Thanks Ryan!

Saturday, April 17, 2010


The nice folks at ICAP (International Career Advancement Program) asked me if I would pass along the following to you. I have a good friend from GLIFAA who has attended this program in the past and found it really useful. And as you might imagine, I am a big supporter of diversity in the Foreign Service (I'm a big supporter of the Foreign Service full stop, but maybe that is just because they pay my bills and occassionally let me travel to cool places!).

The Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver, and the Aspen Institute invite applications for the International Career Advancement Program (ICAP) for 2010. ICAP will bring together mid-career professionals from groups underrepresented in leadership positions in international affairs with senior officials, faculty and staff to spend one week discussing:

* Major international issues to be faced during the next decade;
* The credentials and experiences normally sought for senior leadership positions;
* The importance of diversity if US interests are to be served adequately;
* Career issues or problems and how they can be addressed;
* Obstacles faced by those seeking advancement and how to overcome them; and
* Programs and policies designed to increase diversity at senior levels

The purpose of ICAP is to help bring higher quality and greater diversity to the staffing of senior management and policy-making positions in international careers in the US, both governmental and private. The aim is to assist highly promising mid-career professionals advance to more senior positions in international affairs. Those selected for the program pay for their own travel and must pay a $200 registration fee but their room, meals and program expenses in Aspen are provided by the program. Applicants should:

* Have a demonstrated commitment to increasing the quality and diversity of senior leadership in the US in international affairs;
* Be US citizens or permanent residents;
* Be professionals who have been or are now in international careers, with 3 to 15 years of working experience;
* Have a demonstrated interest in a long-term career in international affairs;
* Have credentials and achievements that indicate potential for the highest levels of leadership;
* Be committed to providing support for their peers and mentoring those junior to them

An application form can be downloaded from or requested from:
Professor Thomas Rowe, Director
International Career Advancement Program
Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver
2201 South Gaylord Street
Denver, Colorado 80208

This year's program is from September 25-October 3, 2010 in Aspen, Colorado.

Completed applications are due by May 10, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Long Way Baby!

A year and a half ago, we were still pounding on doors asking to be treated the same as our straight colleagues.

Yesterday, my wife and I participated in a photo shoot as a tandem couple to be used as part of HR's recruitment campaign (she hated it, but that is part of the price she pays for marrying an extroverted PD officer!).

We've come a long way, baby!

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Clearly, according to Fox, SC is also run by Muslims.

Who Called?

In my office, we get LOTS of calls from journalists. Really lots. Like, we are the only people in the State Department journalists ever call, because if they call someone else, like, say, a political officer with allergies to journalists, they get directed to Public Affairs.

And we like journalists. We have mostly good relations with them and while they sometimes ask tough questions that we wish they wouldn't, we try to give them good answers and hope we can get our message out.

So we get these calls. From all over. And who would you guess would be the ones to give us pause?

Washington Post? No.
New York Times? No.
CNN? No.

Not even Fox. But yesterday, we got a call from...

The Daily Show.

Oh crap. What could we possibly have done that got the attention of the Daily Show. This really can't be good.

Turns out they were calling about the design of the logo for the Nuclear Security Summit. Did we design it?

Not us. We direct you to the White House. And breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Turns out, Fox and Friends had done a story on the logo...they said that it looked like the Muslim Cresent.


Okay, I'll buy that... because I suppose if you don't believe in science, an ATOM is REALLY HARD to recognize.

I found a clip of The Daily Show's treatment here. I laughed until I cried.

FSI announces LGBT Community in Foreign Affairs Agencies Workshop

FSI announces: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Community in Foreign Affairs Agencies Workshop

This Transition Center workshop will highlight the unique situations that affect LGBT employees and their families overseas and help them understand and work with relevant USG policies. It will help participants identify the unique security challenges and safety issues that may arise overseas, gain familiarity with USG policies as they apply to same sex domestic partners and members of household, learn how to engage with post to gain assistance and understand the challenges of having foreign national partners both overseas and in the U.S.

WHERE AND WHEN: Transition Center, FSI, 4000 Arlington BLVD, Arlington, VA on Wednesday, June 9, 2010 from 6:00 pm- 8:30 pm.

WHO MAY ATTEND: Open to all foreign affairs agency employees, eligible family members and members of household


HOW TO APPLY: Provide the name, agency and contact information of the attendee to

For more information: About this workshop and other FSI Transition Center courses, check our website at

QUESTIONS: For any questions about this workshop please contact Archana Dheer at

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I might have just pissed myself off...

Okay, I added another label. And I can't decide if I have annoyed myself.

Male EFM.

I did it because so many assume (wrongly) that all EFMs are women. It seems to be a complaint of male EFMs that the assumption continues to be made in training, even when there are clearly male EFMs in the classes...

I don't think the issues facing male EFMs are different from female EFMs in reality (do I want a job/career, do I want to be a stay at home parent, what opportunities can I create for myself at post). But perhaps the perception is different.

I think more and more, women are joining the foreign service and men are the "trailing spouses" (what an obnoxious term). So I thought labeling the EFM blogs I knew to be male EFMs as such would let folks know there are more than they realize.

But if feels I am annoying myself.


Okay, I have labeled all the blogs on the FS blogroll. But of course, there will be mistakes. So please take a look and if you see any glaring errors, I'll fix them. Fixing is far less time consuming that labeling all of them!

I noticed a couple things I hadn't realized. First, there are more FS tandem blogs than I realized. Second, there are more joint FSO/EFM blogs than I realized. Granted, most of them have one or the other doing most of the heavy lifting, but some are true He Said/She Said blogs (I am NOT being heterosexist here...I did not notice any co-authored blogs by same-sex couples. Mine included. I NEVER let my wife touch my blog! She has her own, but I think she posted twice. It is on the blogroll, but I didn't identify the author! You can probably bribe K at A Daring Adventure...she is the only one who knows.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Third Culture Kids

You know those lists? "You Might Be From South Carolina If..." and so forth.

Well I found a blog this morning, La Vie en Rose, written by a self-descibed Foreign Service Dependent. And she has one of those lists for third culture kids. It is pretty funny. And true.

Some examples:

- You can't answer the question, "Where are you from?" (And when you do, you get into an elaborate conversation that gets everyone confused and/or makes you sound very spoiled.)

- You flew before you could walk.

- You have a passport, but no driver's license.

- You think VISA is a document stamped in your passport, and not a plastic card you carry in your wallet.

- You've woken up in the middle of the night to watch the Superbowl on cable.

- You go into culture shock upon returning to your "home" country.

- Your life story uses the phrase "Then we moved to..." three (or four, or five...) times.

- The thought of sending your (hypothetical) kids to public school scares you, while the thought of letting them fly alone doesn't at all.

- You are a pro packer, or at least have done it many times.

- Your passport has more stamps than a post office.

- You wake up in one country thinking you are in another.

- A friend talks about their dreams of traveling to across the world to a secluded country and you can give them all the best restaurants and places to visit. You're like the traveler guidebook.

- The MSGs become your favorite people because you see them all the time and everytime you call your parents you talk to them first.

- You learn that jet lag is easier going West around the globe.

You can read the entire list here.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Now for something totally different...

I have decided to take up running.

I'll wait for those of you who know me to stop laughing.

:::tapping foot:::::

Still waiting.

I could give you lots of really good reasons for why I am doing it:

*my wife inspired me
*walking the HASH in Jerusalem inspired me very slowly.
*my cousin died of a heart attack a few weeks ago at age 40 (for those who did not instantly think "wow, that's younger than you are!", I thank you).
*I want to lose weight and get in shape
*I wanted to be able to run with my wife (who am I kidding...she'd pass me in 2.5 seconds at her SLOW pace)
*I've always wanted to run but always started it the wrong way and gave up.

All of those things are true, but they aren't the real reason.

The real reason I decided to take up jogging is that last month, my wife ran her first half marathon.

And she got a cool free hat that says so (well, free if you don't count the entry fee and having to run 13.1 miles to get it).

And I WANT one.

Now I know many of you are thinking I am a little fat for running. I'll just say it is really rude of you to point that out.

So now I am doing the Couch to 5k program and learning to run the right way. And the weirdest thing? I kinda like it. I even have this urge to jog down the long hallways at Main State (though in a suit, that might look weird. Actually, it might look weird under any circumstance at Main State. No, scratch that, they will just think I am a staffer. Which I am. So maybe I will!)

And the endorphines are great.

Plus maybe one day I'll get a cool hat. For free (after paying an entry fee and running a really long way!)

I'm Working on It

It may take me a little while (DANG there are A LOT of blogs there!), but I am labeling them (with all due respect to Donna, who doesn't think they need labels. I hope you'll continue, like she does, to read a variety of them).

You might have noticed that the labels aren't appearing in order on the list...that is because I get bored easily. So I started at the top, then worked a while from the bottom, filled a few in towards the middle. Eventually they will all have labels.

If I have labeled you incorrectly, please let me know and I will fix it.

And just for Donna: the yellow is to highlight particular sentences for the reader. Maybe red would work better? Glad you'll come back either way!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Blogroll Question: Labelling blog types

Okay, so here is a question for you. I got asked a while back if any of the blogs on my blogroll were from USAID. So I let those who asked which ones were.

Should I label all the blogs on the blogroll? I don't want to "other" anyone (we are all part of the Foreign Service), but maybe it would be helpful for folks looking for an EFM perspective, or an officer or specialist perspective.

So what do you think? I am willing to invest the time (because I think my blogroll is the most important service I provide and reading my ramblings is just the fee I charge!) if people want me to do it. But I won't if it would offend folks.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Condolences for Poland

Our phone rang at 4:30 this morning with the news that the Polish President and his wife had been killed when their plane crashed while trying to land in heavy fog.

The plane was full of dignitaries heading to Katyn to mark the 70th anniversary of the Soviet massacre of some 20,000 Polish officers and intellectuals by the Soviet secret security during World War II. It is a testiment to improving Russian-Polish relations that the two countries could come together to mark this sad anniversary.

What has slowly emerged over the last 14 hours is just how devastating this is for Poland. Not only have they lost their head of state, but they have lost a large number of high ranking government officials. Among the dead, in addition to President Kaczynski and his wife, Maria Kaczynska, were Aleksander Szczyglo, the head of the National Security Office; Jerzy Szmajdzinski, the deputy parliament speaker; Andrzej Kremer, the deputy foreign minister; and Gen. Franciszek Gagor, the army chief of staff. The entire top military brass, including the chief of defense and all the services, died in the crash, effectively decapitating the Polish military. They have lost opposition leaders, and all the candidates for President in September's upcoming election save one. The head of the National Bank and their leading gay rights activist were on that plane. And perhaps saddest of all, family members of the people massacred in Katyn were on that plane.

And the last time the Polish government was dessimated this badly was, ironically, at Katyn.

The picture above, coutrsy of the New York Times, is one of the more shows the empty seats reserved for the delegation at the anniversary commemoration.

Slawomir Debski, the head of Poland's Institute of International Affairs, said "We cannot understand why people representing the Polish state died at the same place where thousands of Poland's officers had been murdered. Apparently this soil must like Polish blood."

More Foreign Service Reality

Many thanks to Foreign Policy for this piece, which talks about some of the dangers facing people in the Foreign Service. Every so often, some ya-hoo comes along with the same old drivel about how cushy we have it. It is nice to occassionally see a piece recognizing the risks we face to serve.

U.S. Outposts in the Crosshairs


As the most visible symbols of U.S. foreign policy around the world, embassies have always been a target for political violence. Last weekend’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Peshawar was just the most recent example. But embassies are addressing their vulnerabilities, as the Peshawar case shows: While two consulate employees were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside, the casualties could have been much worse if gunmen had breached the mission’s heavily guarded gate. Following are five U.S. facilities around the world that are ramping up security in response to worsening local conditions.


Friday, April 09, 2010

Which Brings Us To Our Next Question

Spousal employment.

What's an EFM to do?

According to DiploPundit, the FLO says that the answer to that question is seldom "work" (that is, for pay). Of the 10,000 or so EFMs going to post, 75% want to work, and only about a third of them get to. And the jobs they get? Well, I am sure that there are folks out there dying to be the CLO, but I wasn't one of them.

Of course, the situation I was in would be different today. As a same-sex partner of a diplomat, I wasn't entitled to EVEN APPLY for the CLO job until after all the EFMs at post had decided they didn't want it. And then I would get no preference over random ex-pats no associated with the mission and would likely be paid at the same rate as an FSN, which is often far lower than an American is paid for the same job at that post. I also wasn't entitled to a diplomatic passport and protections. So I left archaeology (a career I loved) and joined the service to be with the person I loved.

Plenty of folks can't or don't want to make that choice. Luckily they don't have to as often now.

I can't speak to what other folks have done, so I would really like for people to weigh in. What did you or your spouse do at post? Ryan and Lori's Exciting Adventures wondered how many folks choose posts based on spousal employment and how many leave the service for a lack of it. I wonder too, and I bet Ryan and Lori are correct in that the numbers are high. We live in a world where it is more common than not that both partners work, and many therefore take the duel household income hit of a salary cut and a sudden lack of spousal salary in order to serve the country. I wonder how many dedicated public servants leave because the cost is ultimately too high.

I do suspect those numbers would be hard to come by, since the Department does not count in its tally of attrition people who leave the service but stay in the employ of the Federal Government. So those folks who transition to Civil Service in the Department or who go to another agency aren't counted.

So what has your experience been? Have you been able to work and at what kind of work. If not, how has the absense of your salary affected your family?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Responding to a comment

I got a comment on my entry Here's a More Accurate View: The Foreign Service, A Rewarding Life But It’s Not for Everyone.

Anonymous said...
"So here's my dilemma - I've made it to the top of the Econ register, but have asked for a "temporary postponement" while I sort out my family and current job options.

My concerns include: as a female potential FSO in my early 30s, I'm worried about my young family's safety and about my husband's job track. He's been a steady career guy all his life and is nervous about following me around into the Great Unknown.

I'd also be giving up a much greater salary (not to mention my husband's income). So here's the question - just how great is the FS? Is it worth it for me to take the risk(s) or should I pass? Is it all it's cracked up to be, or is it a lot of bureaucracy and not as much on the job learning?

Any insights from other FSOs would be greatly appreciated!"

I started to respond on that post, but thought Anonymous would be better served by me reposting it here and opening it up to everyone for comment.

For me, it is a very personal decision, and not one that I regret even though I gave up a career I loved. But it isn't for everyone.

The running joke in the State Department is that the answer to every question is "it depends," and that is certainly true here. Is it worth it for me? Yes, but for you, it depends. Yes, you will get experiences you would never get anywhere else. You will experience countries in a way no tourist can. You will have the chance to do meaningful work and make a difference. But it is also a bureaucracy.

Will your children be safe? It depends. Some 85% of folks in the Foreign Service, me included, have been the victim of crime. I felt very safe overseas, but there are some who don't. Some spouses find meaningful work, some don't. I found being a Member of Household unacceptable, so I joined the service, but not everyone can make that choice. So it depends.

I hope others will weigh in. All I can say is that for me, I love what I am doing, can't wait to go back overseas, and don't regret my choice.

For me, it is definitely worth it.

Because you are dying to know...

Okay, as promised here is what they said about blogging.

First, the most recent guidance is still from 2008:

As bloggers, we are expressly prohibited from being posting on publicly accessible websites:

• Classified, SBU, or other information with restricted distribution requirements
• Floor plans/blueprints with associated information
• Home addresses, home/cell telephone numbers of individuals
• Personal or legal matters of another employee
• Technical information that may put Department resources at risk
• Medical records and/or financial disclosures of another employee
• Information dealing with investigative actions

We are also generally prohibited from being posting (unless the information is obtained through Public Affairs channels):

• Biographies of U.S. government employees except for DCM rank or equivalent and above, or as approved for public diplomacy or public affairs purposes
• Job titles and/or descriptions of U.S. government personnel, except as stated in the Key Officers of the Foreign Service Posts publication or when required by law or regulation
• Information identifying employees of other agencies
• Travel itineraries of individuals or groups prior to the event, unless previously released to the media or otherwise authorized as a part of a public diplomacy or public affairs function
• Pictures of U.S. government facilities other than the official photo of an embassy or chancery building

We did have a DS briefing, and while I understand that they are still telling A-100 folks not to blog or facebook ever never never or the USG might crumble, what they said to us seemed to me to suggest that DS is moving more towards understanding that this is the means of outreach these days, and perhaps in their minds is becoming a "neccessary evil." On one DS video they showed us, a DS agent with OPSEC (operational security) said that he himself blogs. That he loves blogs and bloggers, but hates "stupid bloggers."

Our presenter said that we simply need to be cautious from a personal perspective, recognizing that the Department of State is a target, and that we are a target by our association with State.

Which is a far cry from "don't blog."

What the video suggested is that people should be taught how to blog. Blogging can be a really useful communications tool, and I doubt any of us in the FS coomunity want to do harm to State or the USG. We are serving the country for goodness sake. So I agree, helping us understand HOW to blog would be a far better route than telling us not to (because as my blogroll illustrates, we are going to blog. And the blogs reach people). For example, the most useful guidance I ever got on blogging was from a DS agent who approached me as a friend and told me how what I was blogging on, which was not classified, could be used by the bad guys. I took from that lesson not that I shouldn't blog but that I should keep in mind how what I write can be used.

That was as indepth as they went...they didn't talk about specific types of blogs (though I'd suspect spouses have more liberty than employees). But like I said, it really seems to be a shift from don't blog to how/what to blog.

Watch this space!

Supposedly we will be learning today what we CAN'T do with social media (including blogs). I will keep you posted.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Well that didn't help so much...

I feel like I have failed you...

So apparently the links I posted for you yesterday are available on the Department's intranet, but not the regular internet.

That is, unless you have an account with intelink. So get one. Go the and sign up. Not sure if you can do it without a .gov email address. I'll try to find out.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Greetings from FSI

I am at the Foreign Service Institute for the next three days studying New and Social Media. Yes really.

Stop snickering. It is the advanced course.

ON EDIT: A common topic among bloggers is the Department policy about blogging, and I have discussed previously how the Department is a bit schitzophrenic on the subject.

In this class, it seems that the shift I expected is becoming more of a reality, as the Department establishes tools such as the Social Media Hub. Among the tools you will find there is a link for State Department Social Media Links. Included in those links are links for State Department Blogs (and there are a lot of them!) and State Department Facebook sites. The blog link in particular illustrates the schitzophrenia, mentioning on the one hand that the Department tries to control some blog content and while also providing links to a number of unofficial blogs (including this one).

And perhaps a sign of things to come, one of the designers of this course, and our first speaker of the day, was well-known blogger John Matel of World Wide Matel.

Friday, April 02, 2010

We support ESP, but are generally against coups

Sometimes the Daily Press Briefing is pretty funny. There were a couple good moments yesterday:

QUESTION: There are some reports that a Lebanese TV’s personality who is – a psychic – is going to be beheaded in Saudi Arabia for allegedly practicing witchcraft. Now, given the fact that in your recent Human Rights Report you said that there have been some improvements in the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, I was wondering if you have any thoughts on the fact that people of whatever type of religious or practices are being beheaded for their --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I have no knowledge of this case. We’ll be happy to look into it and provide a comment. Obviously, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, are central universal principles that we believe in. But I’ll take the question in terms of the facts of this case.

QUESTION: Right. You’re suggesting that psychics somehow are a religion --

MR. CROWLEY: I’m just saying I will – we will --

QUESTION: Witchcraft is a religion.

MR. CROWLEY: -- take and evaluate – see what we know about this case.

QUESTION: What is the U.S. Government position on extrasensory powers?

MR. CROWLEY: This is April Fool’s Day isn’t it? (Laughter.)

And then there was this:

QUESTION: P.J., what is your take on what’s going on in Guinea-Bissau – or reaction?

MR. CROWLEY: Very complex issue. I think all I would say is that we are monitoring it. We are, as a general rule, against coups. We’re against violence. We want to see constitutional rule restored as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: As a general rule, you’re --

MR. CROWLEY: As a general rule.

QUESTION: -- you’re against coups?

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That’s really bold.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you very much. (Laughter.)

Thursday, April 01, 2010

One more thing to consider

Let's file this under things I wish I had known, though to be fair, there is not much I could have changed.

For those of you in the 152nd in particular, you have just gotten your bid list. You have been told that your first two tours are directed, and that after that, you lobby for jobs in the direction you want your career to go.

Those two things are true.


That doesn't mean you will get the jobs you lobby for. What they never tell you is how much those two directed tours affect your whole career. For your third tour and beyond, you do lobby for the jobs you want. But lobbying is all about who you know. People doing the hiring either want to know you or know someone who knows you. You want big dogs in your corner who can help persuade those people to hire you.

And where do you acquire those big dogs? From your previous tours. It would be nice if they considered your experience from before the foreign service, but often they do not. So for me, I had trouble getting my first public diplomacy job even though I had degrees in journalism and anthropology as well as experience in both fields (so I have both aspects of PD work covered) because no one knew me. So instead, I went from my second tour to a position as a staff assistant in the same bureau as my second tour. Why did they want me? Because they knew me. I was a known quantity in the bureau. Now fortunately, the PDAS in that bureau had previously served as an office director in the office I wanted to go to. HE (not me) was a known quantity there, and so HIS word (not my experience) got me the job. Before he weighed in, I couldn't even get them to schedule a time for me to come by and chat about the job.

From that job, I was able to get the job overseas I wanted because I got the biggest dogs in the bureau to weigh in for me, plus I knew one of the big dogs making the decision through GLIFAA.

Same story for my wife. Her DCM and Pol-Econ chief from her first tour weighed in for her for her third tour. Again, despite her experience (and PhD) in the area of concern, it was who spoke on her behalf, and that she herself was something of a known in that bureau, that got her the job. Her next assignment was because of her experience in her third tour. Her onward is because of her experience in that bureau and our connection to the big dog making the decision for the next tour.

All of this is to say that when you are considering where you want to bid for your first and second tours, consider too where you want to go after that. Find out about the people you will be working for, where they have served, etc. And use that as an additional guide when you decide which posts to bid high, medium and low. You will still go where your CDO assigns you, but since they do TRY to put you where you want to be (within reason), it can only help to be armed with as much information as possible when you make your case.